Final Impressions: Run with the Wind

Season Premiere: Fall 2018

Number of Episodes: 23

Genres: Sports, Drama, Comedy

Thoughts: As a runner and sports-anime enthusiast, I couldn’t pass up on Run with the Wind, could I? And boy am I glad I didn’t. Although the premise has been used before to some degree, it’s the expert execution that had me gripped until the very end. I might even say that Run with the Wind has made it to my top ten anime list.

One of the aspects that makes this different from other sports anime is how character-driven it is. I’m a sucker for well-written realistic characters and watching them overcome struggles is a cathartic experience.

The plot revolves around ten amateurs who participate in a challenging marathon called the Hakone Ekiden. Most of these characters aren’t interested in running to start with, heck, some aren’t interested in sports or fitness at all! (I’m thinking of you, Prince.) Some of them did run competitively in the past, but for various personal reasons, they decided to give it up. However, running Hakone is Haiji Kiyose’s dream, or more accurately, his obsession. When he witnesses Kakeru running impressively fast after stealing food from a shop, he helps him do the right thing and convinces him to come and live in Kansei University’s Track and Field dorm. With Kakeru’s addition, Haiji now has the ten people he requires to participate in the Hakone Ekiden.

Naturally, all of the dudes are reluctant or refuse to join at first. I mean, who wants to go for a long run after an exhausting day at college? There’s also the fact that the Hakone Ekiden is extremely difficult, making it an intimidating prospect. But, Haiji is a stubborn and persuasive guy. He reaches out to his dorm-mates and uses a variety of techniques, from promising popularity to straight up blackmail, until everyone reluctantly agrees to practice. You have to give it up for Haiji. Although his motivation and methods might’ve been selfish, you begin to realize that he has given his teammates a dream, something to aspire for that is bigger than themselves. It’s not easy to be a leader even with willing teammates, but Haiji’s uncanny ability to understand each of his friends’ physical and emotional needs and strengths, unites every individual in an applaudable fashion.

The most remarkable aspects of Run with the Wind are the relatable and distinct set of diverse characters. Each of the ten are from different age groups and they all have different professional and personal interests. Yet, there is enough time spent on everyone so the viewer is invested in all their futures. The narrative also introduces conflict and development in a wonderfully realistic manner; nothing feels forced or left out. There was never too much focus on one character and not enough of another, making the chemistry just right.

Kakeru, the protagonist, is definitely an interesting guy. He is the fastest of the group, impulsive, and prone to violence. Kakeru used to be an elite runner in his high school years, but due to a traumatic experience, he has grown to dislike running. At first, he is vehemently opposed to participating in the Hakone Ekiden. Even after he joins practice, he isn’t convinced that their team could compete at the marathon.

Most of the conflict in the series is created or caused by Kakeru. The primary antagonist, Sakaki, is a blast from Kakeru’s past. However, this isn’t a negative. In fact, once we learn about the traumatic events that took place in Kakeru and Sakaki’s previous running team, it’s easy to understand both their views. Sakaki’s hatred of Kakeru is reasonable and Kakeru’s reactions are easy to empathize with. I could understand his doubts, his fears, and general lack of trust. He doesn’t go out of his way to create drama or tension — it just exists given his complicated relationship with running, particularly with running in a team.

The relationship between Kakeru and Haiji is worth mentioning since they heavily influence each other. They have opposite views on what running is really about. Part of why Kakeru grows away from the sport is because he believes it’s about personal glory. It’s a selfish indulgence. Haiji, on the other hand, suffered an injury that disabled him from running for a while. This experience taught him that there are things bigger than winning and he goes about teaching Kakeru the same thing.

Of course, it isn’t only Kakeru who has his reservations. Everyone has genuine insecurities. The character Prince, resonated with me greatly. Starting off as lazy, preferring to spend most of his time sitting and reading comics, Prince is the last person you’d expect to see running at all, never mind doing so competitively. If Haiji is the picture of enthusiasm, Prince is the opposite. He hates running and is only doing it because Haiji forced him. He attempts to run by moving his lanky body in a slow and bizarre manner. His form was so terrible, I wanted to reach into the screen and physically reposition his arms. Haiji coaches Prince by running behind him and keeping him motivated throughout. Prince is always last in his team, but somewhere along the way, he gains the desire to make an effort for his own sake. There’s respect to be earned in consistently doing something that you are the worst at in comparison to those around you. Prince didn’t let the pressure get the better of him and didn’t feel sorry that he was slow; he just kept plodding along. And isn’t that single-minded focus inspiring? I had tears in my eyes when he made it past the qualifiers because like Kakeru, I didn’t think he could do it. It made my heart swell up. Go Prince!

There’s inspiration that can be drawn from everyone. There’s Nico who was once told by a coach that his body wasn’t made for running; King, who is afraid to spend any time away from looking for employment because he needs the money; and Musa, who worries that his African roots would make people hold stereotypically high expectations from him. There isn’t the scope to cover every character, but you can tell that each is worth knowing and caring deeply about. It’s a brilliant ensemble and there were many times I had to wipe away my tears.

The pacing of the story is done exceptionally well, with a slice-of-life college feel. The development of the characters isn’t just done through running and competitions, but also in everyday moments like bathing, eating, and laughing with friends. It would have been easy to neglect a character or two when there are so many, but amazingly enough, this was not the case.

In terms of production, I have nothing but praises for Production I.G. The characters are designed well: their clothing, mannerisms, facial expressions, running style… all of it was unique and the fluid animation complemented their individuality. The attention to detail in body movements whilst running and the background art in various settings was excellent. Musically, the sound design was great with the OST’s timed well to maximize emotion. The openings and endings are addictive tunes, especially Reset by Taichi Mukai. Such a beautiful piece!

Overall, you don’t have to care about running to enjoy the show. I believe running to be a metaphor for life. You may feel like you suck, or there are too many expectations. The pressure might drown you any moment, and what’s the point in living if you aren’t at the top? But you have to keep moving. One leg in front of another. Just when you think you’re done, there will be people around you to show you that you can go farther than this. You can, in fact, exceed your self imposed limits. This is the transformative message that Run with the Wind shares with us. It’s about the value of doing something great with others and the connections you form that make it all worthwhile. I’d highly recommend this show to anyone who wants to win at life.

Rating

I’m following the rating system used by Japanese anime critics. There are 5 categories, each scored out of 10 and then multiplied by 2.

Plot: 8

Characters: 9

Voice Acting: 8

Art/Animation: 8

Soundtrack: 8

Final Score: 82

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